For many cyclists turbo trainers are a necessary evil when the days begin to get shorter, the weather turns and the thought of riding in the dark and wet is just a pedal revolution too far. Although they often get a bad reputation, a turbo trainer can keep you warm, dry and safe while you keep your fitness ticking over during the winter months and with the latest trainer technology, the indoor experience is gradually becoming less removed from the real thing.
What is a turbo trainer?
Let's start with the basics. A turbo trainer is a static device which your bike attaches too, allowing you to ride your own bike, in one place, pretty much wherever you please. Most turbos work in a similar way with the rear wheel clamped into a frame which keeps the bike stable while you ride. For traditional turbo trainers, the rear wheel will sit in contact with a roller which is connected to a resistance unit and, as you pedal, the back wheel will turn the roller and generate resistance.
The vast majority of trainers will have the ability to vary the resistance, meaning you can work harder if you so wish and allowing you to work through intense workouts (if you're into that kind of thing). This resistance is generated in several different ways which we'll cover shortly. Recently, direct drive trainers have become increasingly popular - with this style of turbo, you remove your rear wheel completely and sit the rear dropouts of the bike on the turbo trainer.
Why use a turbo trainer?
While most cyclists will bemoan the boredom related to sitting on the turbo, there's a huge number of benefits related to jumping on the turbo.
1. Avoiding bad weather
Although there might be some grim satisfaction to riding in terrible weather, it's just not something you want to do regularly, if for no other reason that it'll make you ill and you'll miss more riding! When the weather turns icy and damp in winter, a stint on the turbo will keep you warm and dry while still maintaining your hard-earned summer fitness
2. Keeping safe
Similar to above, riding in icy and wet conditions, or in the dark, can be treacherous and riding inside can be a much safer alternative to riding on the road once the nights draw in and the weather turns.
3. Targeted training
The real benefit of an indoor trainer is its effectiveness as a training aid. You can work on a specific area of fitness and time your session to the second, while you can also allow for more intense efforts without worrying about traffic, junctions or hills to halt your progress.
With that ability to be so specific, the turbo can be a great training tool for time-crunched cyclists. Without the need to get wrapped up to tackle the weather, or clean your bike when you get home, you can jump on, smash out a session, and reap the fitness benefits in as little as half an hour.
5. Pre-race warm ups
If you're of a competitive disposition, the turbo trainer can be an excellent tool for waking your legs up ahead of your local crit or time trial. Popularised by Team Sky at World Tour level, a foldable turbo trainer should easily fit in the boot ahead of your next race.
What types of turbo trainer are available?
Before buying a turbo trainer it's worth considering where you'll be setting it up and whether you'll be regularly transporting your turbo due to differences in size and weight. Besides those factors, turbo trainers typically differ in the system of resistance they use and as with most things in cycling, there's a huge array of options depending on budget and your own needs. Luckily here at Rutland Cycling we offer a wide range of turbos from some of the biggest brands like Tacx, Wahoo, Elite, Cycleops and Giant.
Electromagnetic turbo trainers
Electromagnetic trainers are similar to magnetic turbos, except they use an electromagnetic field to create resistance. As they use electricity, they can be controlled digitally and wirelessly meaning they are much easier to use. Your bike's rear wheel will sit against the roller and the attached electromagnetic unit then creates the turning resistance on the back wheel.
Direct drive trainers
Direct drive turbo trainers have picked up in popularity over the last few years. Noticeably different in design to their magnetic based siblings, direct drive trainers sit in place of the rear wheel so, while you'll need a second cassette to fit to the turbo, you won't need to worry about wearing out your tyres or faffing around with turbo-specific tyres. Removing the contact between the trainer and your wheel makes direct drive the quietest option going, most have the capability to connect with your smartphone or PC via Bluetooth or ANT+ so you can use trainer-specific apps like Zwift, Trainerroad or the Sufferfest which help create the most realistic indoor riding experience possible.
New technology and products
With the demand for smart trainers increasing, companies have been developing new technologies to fulfil all your turbo training needs. From smart stationary bikes to fans that match your effort on the bike. Here's the latest in indoor cycling products:
Wahoo Kickr Bike Indoor Smart Turbo Trainer
Wahoo's Kickr Bike is here. Eagerly anticipated by riders of the indoor revolution, the Kickr Bike seamlessly combines all of the indoor training innovations that have earned Wahoo its name, into a complete training machine.
- Power readings of up to 2,200 Watts
- Accuracy of 2%
- Incline simulation of up to 20%
- Descent simulation
- Zwift compatible
- Virtual gearing
Wahoo KICKR Climb Indoor Grade Simulator
The latest innovation from Wahoo will literally take your indoor training to the next level! KICKR CLIMB indoor grade simulator is designed to work exclusively with the new KICKR and new SNAP and when paired, it will add physical grade changes to your indoor training. The CLIMB is compatible with Third Party Apps, so whether riding a virtual course or performing a structured workout, KICKR CLIMB blends assents and descents with resistance changes for a truly immersive indoor training experience. The world isn't flat; now, neither is your ride!
- Ascend up to 20% and descend down to -10%
- Works with Wahoo Kickr Smart Trainers
- Locked and unlocked climbing modes
- Wahoo ELEMNT and ELEMNT bolt compatibility
- 3rd party app compatible
Elite Nero Smart B+FE-C Roller Trainer
Elite's Nero Smart FE-C Roller Trainer combines the unique feel of a roller trainer with interactive smart training. The floating system of the Nero Smart roller provides flexibility to the rider to absorb any unintended movements, making the Nero Smart Roller one of the easiest and safest rollers to train on. The floating rear rollers offer 16 different levels of resistance with up to 6% inclines, the resistance acting on both rollers to offer a wide variety of training intensities. This is ideal for virtual race software such as Zwift, with the Nero boasting ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart connectivity.
- Premium floating resistance rollers
- FE-C smart trainer protocol allows Zwift compatibility
- 16 levels of resistance
- Up to 6% incline replication
- ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart connectivity
- Folds and locks for easy transportation
Wahoo KICKR Headwind Smart Bluetooth Fan
The KICKR HEADWIND is the first ever smart fan, designed with the cyclist in mind. It's Targeted Airflow Pattern mirrors the shape and position of a cyclist's body while riding. The KICKR HEADWIND is sensor controlled so as your speed or heart rate increases, so will the fan speed, and there are also 4 manual speed settings should you want to set your own ideal airflow. With speeds of over 30 mph (48 kph), the KICKR HEADWIND will keep you cool during the toughest training sessions.
- Bluetooth - Pair to phone to control the fan speed via app
- ANT+ - Pair to speed sensor, heart rate monitor, or smart trainer to control fan speed
- Targeted airflow pattern
- Sensor based fan speed control
Will a turbo trainer work with my bike?
In short, yes. Nearly every road bike will fit on a turbo trainer as long as you use the provided skewer on the rear wheel and most mountain bikes can also be used, providing you fit a slick tyre to the back wheel. The only bikes you might struggle with are BMXs.
Do I need anything else with my turbo trainer?
There are a number of essential accessories which can improve your turbo experience. For the more traditional style of trainer where the rear tyre touches the roller, a turbo tyre is almost essential. Made of a harder compound rubber, a turbo tyre will prevent you from wearing out your usual road tyre and should reduce noise. In many instances, you can pick up a cheap rear wheel which you can swap in when you use the turbo, rather than fiddling around changing tyres.
A mat can reduce noise even further and can also protect your floor from sweat and spilt energy drinks. Worried about sweating all over your pride and joy while you're training indoors? You can also pick a sweat cover which sits between the handlebars and seatpost to protect your bike, and particularly the headset from corrosive sweat. Many trainers will come with them, but a riser block and specific quick release skewer are essential - the riser block lifts your front wheel so that the bike is level, while a specific skewer is usually required to ensure the bike is mounted correctly. If you like to catch up on some TV on the turbo, or use a platform like Zwift or Trainerroad, you could add a tablet bracket to hold it securely in place. Lastly, a good size fan is almost a necessity for indoor training.
What if I don't want a turbo, but still want to train indoors?
The alternative to a turbo trainer is rollers. More compact than turbo trainer and designed to refine your coordination and technique, roller trainers use a system of cylinders on a frame rather than a resistance unit to allow you to train indoors. As you're not attached to the trainer in the same way that you are with a turbo, once you start pedalling you are required to balance and keep the bike (and you) upright which is fantastic for bike control, but can detract from developing pedal power - and takes some practice!
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